It is never easy to adapt something that was already (presumably) well made. When the adaptation is made from another media, that job is even harder. Most often media from which the adaptations are made are, of course, books and to transfer written word to the screen much skill is needed. It’s not easy to capture the spirit of the books which have immense possibilities of exploration and imagination, which have the possibility of rereading in different times and contexts, to the screen. Movies are limited media in that regard. The movie has limited length, it depends on visual rather than narrative and even if it captures the soul of the book it still usually lacks some parts of it that the screenwriter had to sacrifice. Every attempt to make cross-media adaptation needs to be honored, but that doesn’t mean that all of them are equally good. During this year “Oscar” season following titles are nominated: “American Sniper”, “Inherent Vice”, “The Imitation Game”, “Theory of Everything” and “Whiplash”. The funny thing with that list is that is alphabetical, but that would be and my order for this category, with “Whiplash” as the winner. I will try to explain why in the following text.
“American Sniper”: Some prognosis says that this is the film which will likely win this category, that the sense of proud and pathos will prevail for the voters and that success on the box office will make “American Sniper” a winner not only in this but in some other (more spotlight) categories.
“American Sniper” is an adaptation of NYT bestseller of the same title, written by Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and James Defelice. The film was adapted to the screen by Jason Hall, mediocre actor who hasn’t been very successful in the writing department until now. “American Sniper”, however, lacks criticism and objectivity needed to make it a far more provocative film than it is. It’s one-sided portrayal of Chris Kyle and his heroism, with only a handful critical elements and anti-war parts. I am well aware that “American Sniper” wasn’t intended to be anti-war epic and that its intention was to give us insight into the life of Chris Kyle (and all other characters similar to him in any war anywhere) but “American Sniper” even in that regard missed me completely. It was written like a sort of video-game in which there wasn’t any real conflict during the war, all was polished and tucked under the rug. Only in elements of civil life, real drama came to life, but even then it should’ve been written more convincingly, more real. I wrote in my review of the movie that Chris Kyle seemed godlike in Iraq and that he lost that godliness in the US. However, everything was filled with unnecessary pathos breaking one of the greatest rules of good writing: When you have a story that depicts moments that are heroic, or big as themselves you don’t sugarcoat them. Jason Hall sugarcoated them and that’s for me his greatest sin. I don’t have political problems with “American Sniper”, I don’t even have it with the justification of “War on terror”. I have a problem with key elements of characterization, drama and movie-making which were lacking from the film and the portrayal of Chris Kyle which we did get in the end was that of a shallow man, not particularly clever or interested in anything that fulfilling his duty, he don’t have any other relationships (except family which is full of nonsensical scenes), he doesn’t have any friends of the character and even his death comes out of the blue. Writing in “American Sniper” failed me on so many levels and I still have four movies to write.
Inherent Vice: I read a novel by Thomas Pynchon quite recently. Then I’ve seen the film. For me the film is an adaptation of something that can’t be adapted. In the book lines of thought which Doc is intriguing enough to make me turn the page, but in the movie that flow of consciousness is made by Shasta, girlfriend of the main character who is at the same time one of the most important plot-devices and mysteries in the picture. I had a huge problem with that. Dialogues are often the same, sometimes even letter by letter, but there was no passion, there was no atmosphere, everything seemed like theater play – artificial in a way.
As a standalone adaptation “Inherent Vice” is quite good, but it has a problem of incoherence and lack of structure. The same problem that the book has in my opinion. It simply isn’t as good as the following adaptations.
The Imitation Game: Favorite of the masses I would say. Imitation Game, the story about genius of Alan Turing and his breaking of the Enigma, which made possible for the Allies to win the WW2. Yes, he developed the first computer too. And he was gay. And he was chemically castrated from the same government he saved. Then, he killed himself. That was the major plot points of the movie. However the book in which all these events were described wasn’t like that at all. If we’re talking about this movie in the context of adaptation, it’s not even as good as “Inherent Vice”.
Among many mistakes in the adaptation I will point out the most obvious one: characterization of Alan Turing. Turing was here presented as a misunderstood genius, nobody really understood him and he gets the job in Bletchley park in “a ridiculous confrontation with Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance, of Game of Thrones fame), the Royal Navy officer then in charge of British signals intelligence: “How the bloody hell are you supposed to decrypt German communications if you don’t, oh, I don’t know, speak German?” thunders Denniston. “I’m quite excellent at crossword puzzles,” responds Turing.”
That conversation never took place and what’s even more shocking is this part by comparison:
“If you fire Alan, you’ll have to fire me, too,” says one of his (formerly hostile) coworkers. There’s no question that the real-life Turing was decidedly eccentric, and that he didn’t suffer fools gladly. As his biographers vividly relate, though, he could also be a wonderfully engaging character when he felt like it, notably popular with children and thoroughly charming to anyone for whom he developed a fondness. All of this stands sharply at odds with his characterization in the film, which depicts him as a dour Mr. Spock who is disliked by all of his coworkers—with the possible exception of Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley). The film spares no opportunity to drive home his robotic oddness. He uses the word “logical” a lot and can’t grasp even the most modest of jokes. This despite the fact that he had a sprightly sense of humor, something that comes through vividly in the accounts of his friends, many of whom shared their stories with both Hodges and Copeland. (For the record, the real Turing was also a bit of a slob, with a chronic disregard for personal hygiene. The glamorous Cumberbatch, by contrast, looks like he’s just stepped out of a Burberry catalog.)”
That mistake is inexcusable for me. If indeed that part exists in Hodges’s book that they shouldn’t alter it. It’s just nonsense, again a bit of make-up to make the film appeal to the potential viewers. If you want to read the rest of the quoted text, you can do it HERE.
“Imitation Game” is an excellent movie for me despite of all that, but it shouldn’t win the best adaptation “Oscar” simply because it isn’t. It is populist and not accurate adaptation of extraordinary events. Same mistake as “American Sniper”, “Fruitvale Station”, “Unbroken” and so many others.
Theory of Everything: Everything that I’m bothered with in “American Sniper” and “Imitation Game” turned good in “Theory of Everything”. As an adaptation of Jane Hawking’s book film functions perfectly and all slippery places which could’ve been overdramatic and filled with pathos weren’t there. The best thing, which I cherish the most in “Theory of Everything” is that they didn’t make the emphasis on his disability or his ingenuity. The emphasis was on their relationship and Jane was (naturally, since she was the author) more in the focus of the book. That’s my second place winner here, but I will not be disappointed if it wins “Oscar”.
Whiplash: Some find it arguable that “Whiplash” is even nominated in this category, they are saying that it had easier job than other nominees in it.
“Whiplash” was originally made as a short story by Damien Chazelle (director and writer) when he couldn’t get funding for the movie so he made a short with the same actors and submitted it at Sundance back in 2013. He adapted his short to make this film, and as I said in the beginning, it’s always easier to adapt something that was meant for the screen in the first place. Nevertheless, Chazelle made wonderful and dynamic movie with a powerful story and an even more powerful message and “Whiplash” is my clear favorite in this category. It is adapted from short movie, but it doesn’t have any shortcomings of such adaptation. It doesn’t “drag” so to speak (and use Fletcher’s words). It’s in sync with the story and, as I learned, when I’ve seen the film that isn’t easy at all and needs to be honored.
At the end of this text I would like to mention a movie which would be on this list if I chose the nominees and it didn’t. It should’ve been instead of “American Sniper” or “Inherent Vice”. “Gone Girl”. “Gone Girl” was very well made adaptation of G. Flynn that I really don’t understand how it is missed in this category. Last, but not least, I would be surprised if the Academy chooses same nominees as me but one can never abandon hope.